I have already covered the vocations of marriage and celibacy, and so I thought this would be an appropriate time to talk about the usual consequence of marriage, children. I could probably rest on this subject until I die and still not get to all the issues that could be covered, but for now, I want to talk about fertility as a facet of stewardship.
I have heard oh-so-many sermons about tithing in my lifetime. Protestants loooooove to talk about tithing. I don’t mean that as a slam; it’s good to get a reminder now and then to be generous with money. I do find it somewhat interesting (and telling) that there are multiple parachurch ministries dedicated to the handling of money- you know, to make sure people do the right thing with it, that they don’t cause financial ruin for themselves and their families, and that they give generously back to their church. What’s wrong with that, you may ask? People shouldn’t waste what God gives them, right? So doesn’t it follow
that we should help Christians learn to use their money well? Shouldn’t Christians be especially careful with their stuff? Sure. But to me, what defies logic is that the sentiment consistently ends there, right there, with money and “stuff.”
This thought began to gnaw at me the more serious Jason and I became about looking into the Catholic Church. Why, I thought, would we be told to hold everything that God has given us with an open hand- to look at it not as our own, but as something that can be given back to God, EXCEPT for our fertility?
I guess you may think it is strange that I’m drawing a connection between fertility and money, but I would submit that like money and possessions, fertility is another area over which God has given us a certain amount of autonomy. There are lots of things in life we just can’t control: our health, the weather, other people, nature (for the most part), time. It does seem though, that God has given us some control over at least a couple of things- big things, and I think how we handle them reveals our faithfulness to him. Furthermore, I think we can all agree that the worth of a human being cannot really be monetized, so shouldn’t the means by which life is transmitted be approached with even more prudence than we approach money?
I know most people would say that by the very fact that they contracept, they are indeed being good stewards of our environment, of their money, of their sanity, and so on. And to that, I’ve got to say I just don’t buy it.
To take the possibility of having more children off the table is, in effect, taking your checkbook and hiding it from God. It’s like saying, “Hey, God, I’ve given enough money to your cause and so now I’m going to stop giving and just focus the rest of any incoming assets on myself. I’ve hit my limit.” Now, I believe if people, en masse, started doing this in regard to tithing in their church, they’d be taken to task for being so selfish pretty quickly. So why is it when people cut off their fertility it’s not viewed in the same light?
Well, because kids are a pain in the butt. I mean, we all know they wear you down, they eat your food, they smash Cheerios all over the rug, they throw up on you, sometimes they embarrass you with their barbaric manners, they cost too much, they listen to annoying music, they make going on vacation difficult and expensive. Sometimes they get bad grades that require much lecturing, they tell stories in excruciating detail, they require baths, their friends are loud and sometimes their friends’ parents are even more annoying, they get dirt all over the house, they don’t say thank you enough, they don’t stroke your ego. They just basically ruin a person’s good time, you know? They cramp your style.
Kids are inconvenient. Just like giving money or time in a sacrificial way for the sake of the Kingdom isn’t always convenient. I’m not sure there’s any verse in the Bible though, to say that children should be convenient. I love that Evangelicals can get behind someone like mega-church pastor, Rick Warren, who gives huge amounts of his income back to his church, but when it comes to a family that has a few more children than your average or “acceptable” number, people start to squirm and make jokes. So a person who chooses to live a life of austerity is practically a martyr, but a couple who welcomes many children are just idiots? On the contrary, the Catechism states that “Sacred Scripture and the Church’s traditional practice see in large families a sign of God’s blessing and the parents’ generosity.” (CCC 2373)
But what about the mother’s health? What if a couple is facing financial difficulties? What if…? Well, first off, I’d say that God can give grace to live in difficult situations. Frankly, I think Christians in American are a little too entitled. Many are swept up in the fantasy world that the media has pulled over their eyes and far too many people are living in un-reality, causing them to lose sight of what the goal of a life surrendered to God is. Secondly, I’d suggest that a couple that has serious issues barring them from having more
children acquaint themselves with the Church’s teaching on regulating pregnancy. It’s very generous and it just makes sense. Just as you wouldn’t hand over your blank checkbook to a shady-looking stranger, God does not expect you to have little regard for your fertility. God has given us free will to make responsible and faith-informed decisions. If you are consistently seeking God’s will, I think you can usually tell whether your attitude toward giving is open or if you are just reacting out of fear of the unknown.
The final argument I would anticipate in all this is that this vast Catholic babymaking conspiracy will just wreck the earth. And to that I would ask anyone who would argue this: what have you done today to erase YOUR carbon footprint? Have you picked up garbage from alongside the highway lately? Gone to do a cleanup of a local stream or park? Recycled your electronics? Composted your garbage? Bought an electric car? Installed solar panels in your home? Encouraged your congressman to fund clean energy? Grown food in your garden to give to the poor? Donated money to plant more trees in the rainforests?
What it comes down to is generosity. I think it’s much easier to be generous with money because one can do so in a detached way. To be generous in accepting children is to give up precious bits of yourself that you would perhaps rather keep to yourself. Leaving the option open to welcoming children into our family has not always been easy for a host of reasons, but I can say that I am so grateful that God has seen fit to bless us with four miraculous little lives that we have the privilege of being stewards of. God’s rewards to us far outstrip any measure of generosity we can give.